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Best will forever be regarded as one of Ulster's greatest, maintain Longwell, Ferris and Henry

Bowing out: Rory Best will quit rugby after the World Cup
Bowing out: Rory Best will quit rugby after the World Cup
Stephen Ferris
Gary Longwell
Chris Henry

By Michael Sadlier

The tributes were unsurprisingly full-on after Rory Best announced that he would leave professional rugby for good after this autumn's World Cup.

Stephen Ferris, Chris Henry and Gary Longwell were all more than willing to offer their take on the 36-year-old's contribution to Ulster over 15 years as well as his impact on driving Ireland forward to hit new heights under Joe Schmidt.

Ulster Rugby's Bryn Cunningham also added some stirring words.

Former lock Longwell led the way in praising Best, who was just breaking through at Ulster when the European Cup winner was reaching the end of his career.

"He deserves every bit of praise he gets, he's been absolutely immense," said Longwell.

"I think it's no exaggeration to say that he will go down as one of the greats of Ulster Rugby and, though time will tell, you're probably talking about him alongside Jack Kyle, Willie John McBride and Mike Gibson.

"That's the sort of bracket he is in.

"What he's done for Ireland is winning two Grand Slams, and then there is his leadership and being at the one club all his career even though he had offers to go elsewhere.

"He has an immense amount of integrity and loyalty and will be missed both on and off the pitch.

"He's been an exceptional player but also an exceptional person around the squad.

"Two Grand Slams and he led Ireland to beat the All Blacks not once but twice and to think that people like Keith Wood, Brian O'Driscoll and Paul O'Connell, all great leaders, all tried to do that but couldn't. Rory did.

"He's a world-renowned rugby figure and a fantastic ambassador for Ulster sport."

Ferris, who played with Best for both Ulster and Ireland, said: "He's seen the good, the bad and the ugly at Ulster and been through the whole process over 15 years and that is a real testament to him.

"I think he should be talked about alongside the likes of McBride, Gibson and Kyle. They achieved great things and so did Rory.

"He's been Ireland's most successful captain with one Slam and two defeats of the All Blacks.

"But he is not only a fantastic player, he's also a fantastic leader too.

"It wouldn't matter if you were an established player or a guy in the Academy just coming out of school, Rory would treat you the same and he makes everybody feel the same and gains a lot of respect for that.

"He's such a durable guy and I remember a few years back now speaking to his wife Jodie preparing for a worst-case scenario after he had a neck operation and that he might have to retire.

"That seems like a long time ago now and what he's gone on to achieve since then has been nothing short of remarkable," added the former powerhouse flanker.

Another back-rower, the recently retired Henry, described Best as "the ultimate professional".

"The consistency he brought got the best out of me as a player," said Henry.

"You can read through all his achievements, especially in a green shirt, but what you don't see are the hours of dedication he has given and the hard work he has put in to be the ultimate professional.

"That's why he's had such a prolonged career. He was literally a guy who was first out and last off the pitch every day.

"He was so competitive and that's why he is such an awesome player.

"He was dogged, determined and driven to get Ulster driving forward both on and off the pitch."

Also paying tribute to Best, Ulster's Operations Director Cunningham said: "No player representing Ulster Rugby has had a more profound impact in the professional era than Rory.

"When Rory enters the room, everyone waits for his words. On the training pitch, he demands high standards at all times. During a match, players turn to Rory for leadership and direction.

"He has been our all-encompassing talismanic figure for more than a decade.

"Rory's ability to not only stay at the top but also fight his way through adversity shows the strength of character he possesses.

"Rory will go down as one of the greatest legends of Ulster and Irish Rugby."

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